What To Do When a (Nonprofit) Headhunter Calls

published 03 18 2019

4 minute read time

You love your job, wonderful! If you don’t, maybe you’re looking for new challenges and you’re ready to grow and take the next step in your career. Recruiters who specialize in nonprofit search are great resources and care about the success of the field. So, in either case, you should take the time to respond to the recruiter. The big question is, how?

When you are NOT interested

The first email you receive from a recruiter may not be about a position you’re interested in pursuing and perhaps you know you’re not the best fit. But when you take a moment to respond to the recruiter, you are opening a door of endless future opportunities for yourself.

Search firms that specialize in nonprofit search care about the nonprofit sector and are motivated to get to know strong potential candidates just as much as they want to help their clients find the perfect candidate. And even though you are not ready for a career change right now, you give the search firm a magnifying glass to view your skill set and personality, allowing them to keep you in mind for future searches. Think about these things when responding to a search firm if you are not interested in the position:

  • Happy where you are. Share with the recruiter that you are happy in your position and love the mission of your nonprofit. Perhaps you’ve been promoted, are on track for a promotion or have an impactful story that keeps you motivated in your current role. This will give the recruiter an inside scoop into your passions, qualifications and character traits.
  • You can’t relocate. Perhaps the job you were contacted about would require a relocation and you are either unable to relocate or unwilling to relocate to that area. Be honest with the recruiter and share your geographical limitations.
  • Be a good source. Do you know someone who might be a good fit for the position? Everyone likes being nominated since it means someone thinks highly of them. And if you need the nomination to be confidential, the search firm usually can do that. The recruiter will see that you’re committed to helping others succeed as well as your awareness of others in your field. Share the information with your network as you never know who might be looking for a change.

When you ARE interested

This could be the opportunity you have been waiting for! It can be very helpful to speak with the recruiter who can share details that are not in the position description. If a retained executive search firm has contacted you, be sure to apply with them and not directly to the organization. The organization has hired the retained search firm to recruit and vet candidates. Sending your information directly to the employer means that they forward the application back to the recruiter – an additional step for both who may notice that you did not follow directions about how to submit an application. Here are some important things to remember when you are interested in a position and respond to the recruiter:

  • Educate yourself. After doing your research on the organization, this is an opportunity to ask the recruiter about their insights and knowledge of the position, as well as the culture and structure of the nonprofit. The recruiter may have additional information for you that is not listed in the position description such as why the position is available and challenges and opportunities that may lie ahead for the organization.
  • Be prepared to give your elevator pitch. Share your passions, skills, challenges and accomplishments. Remember, you are speaking with someone who is essentially a matchmaker for your career. The recruiter is learning about your passions. If today’s opportunity doesn’t work out, another opportunity may be right around the corner.
  • Be honest. Once you have had your initial conversation with a recruiter, you might realize that the position isn’t what you thought it would be. That’s okay – be honest with yourself and the recruiter. Take time to determine if this is an opportunity you really want. Either way, let the recruiter know what you’re thinking.
  • Ask for advice. You might be looking for a new role, but this opportunity is not the right fit. Respond by letting the search firm know that you are open to a change and the specific types of roles you would be most interested in pursuing. You should also share geographic preferences or limitations you might have. The search firm may have another opportunity you might be perfect for.
  • Ask questions. The search firm has their pulse in the same sector as you and may be willing to answer questions that might be helpful for you to know. While you are speaking with the recruiter about a specific position, ask about other opportunities that the recruiter believes might be a good fit for you.
  • Keep in touch. Sign up for their newsletter and follow the search firm on LinkedIn. It’s helpful to know about other opportunities in your field. Review job descriptions and learn what other nonprofits are looking for. Do you have those skills and qualifications? If you don’t, you might seek professional development opportunities. Motivate yourself to be knowledgeable so when the time comes, you will be a top candidate.

In the end, you never know when you may want to make a job change. A recruiter will remember when you were helpful recommending prospective candidates. The recruiter is committed to the nonprofit sector, is keyed into the job market and will be good to have in your network. So, take a moment to click reply or pick up the phone and perhaps the right door will open for you.

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